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SHARP’s National Lottery Summer of Heritage and Human Remains

It has been a busy summer for the SHARP Human Remains (HR) team. Following the announcement of our award of a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant back in March [link to previous blog post], SHARP set about recruiting volunteers to participate in the project: Volunteering with a Disarticulated Community: Towards Re-association of Anglo-Saxon Bones.

The first summer of activities has been a huge success. The new ‘disartic’ course offered by the HR team was fully booked and ran during the summer excavation season. It was led by Dr Sophie Beckett with support from HR team members. Attendees were immersed in a challenging week of osteoarchaeology, learning about skeletal anatomy, development and pathology. They were trained to record the disarticulated bones from the Anglo-Saxon human bone assemblage. It was a steep learning curve for all, as they also got to grips with the new direct entry database system for the disarticulated bone and realised just how challenging fragmented and commingled remains are to sort and record. All this during one of the hottest weeks on record for the UK, although ice-lolly breaks did help to maintain morale! At the end of the week, course attendees presented short talks to the site team, volunteers and public visitors. The HR team were immensely proud of their ability to stand up and talk, about what they had learned in just five days, with confidence and use of correct terminology, as well as considerable enthusiasm.

2019 Sedgeford Course Attendees: Recording Disarticulated and Commingled Human Remains in Osteoarchaeology

2019 Course participants giving talks to visitors and SHARP volunteers

Many of the course attendees stayed on as volunteers for a second week and continued to record the disarticulated human bone. This helped to consolidate what they had learnt during the course and was a very enjoyable week, with lots of hands-on practical experience. The HR team were also joined by several returning volunteers who had attended a HR course in previous years and who were a great help to the project again this summer. We hope to see many of the volunteers return to work on the project again next year.

2019 HR volunteers recording the disarticulated human bone assemblage

The informative display about the Heritage Fund project put together by the HR team and volunteers was enjoyed by many visitors to the site at the SHARP Festival of Archaeology. Our favourite feedback from the day was that it was ‘fascinating for a 12-year-old and a 53-year-old – thank you!’.

2019 Human Remains information display for visitors at the SHARP annual Festival of Archaeology

Volunteer at SHARP for a number of years now, Lucy Koster spent several weeks at Sedgeford studying specific contexts from the disarticulated bone assemblage as part of her research for her undergraduate dissertation for the University of Oxford. Lucy talked about some of her findings during the presentation given by Dr Sophie Beckett as part of SHARP’s Tuesday evening lecture series where the project was introduced to interested members of the public and preliminary findings were revealed as a series of case-studies. We are pleased to announce that Lucy has accepted a place on the SHARP HR supervisory team for 2020.

For the first time, SHARP also ran an off-site osteoarchaeology course as part of the National Lottery Heritage Fund project. This was held in Cheltenham and led by Dr Sophie Beckett with assistance from Lucy Koster. The course was hosted by Gloucestershire Archaeology (GlosArch) and was open it members of archaeological societies local to Gloucestershire. As with the on-site version of the course, it was an overwhelming success. Due to the high level of interest, the original number of 10 course places was extended to 19. In keeping with SHARP’s ethos, the HIVE Community Space, Cheltenham was hired as a venue and provided excellent facilities and JT’s Corner Café based at Hester’s Way Community Centre, Cheltenham delivered delicious lunches each day. Again, the experience for course attendees was of a challenging but extremely fun and valuable week of learning and training. They enjoyed the course so much that several have already signed up to volunteer at Sedgeford next summer and they are hoping to form Gloucestershire-based volunteer group for Osteoarchaeology to continue to develop their skills in recording archaeological human remains, with the help of Dr Sophie Beckett. A public lecture evening was held by GlosArch on 28th October 2019 for course participants to present their findings from the recording carried out during the course and aspects that most interested and inspired them. The evening was well attended and very well presented with newly-learnt osteology knowledge and skills being demonstrated in abundance. It was a very enjoyable reunion for course attendees but it is hoped that this is just the start and that an active special interest group for osteology will be established by GlosArch.

2019 participants of the off-site course held in Cheltenham at the HIVE Community Space

The course; Recording Disarticulated and Commingled Human Remains in Osteoarchaeology will be run again at Sedgeford in July 2020 and is now fully booked.

During the intervening months, the Human Remains team will continue to be busy working towards a monograph publication of the osteological analysis of the Sedgeford Anglo-Saxon cemetery assemblage of human remains. They will also be collaborating with other SHARP team members to investigate the contents of the pots discovered during this year’s excavation and believed to be a late 2nd/ early 3rd-century cremation assemblage []. Due to generous donations, a computed tomography (CT) scan of the largest pot has been obtained and has given us a non-destructive preview of what it contains. Preliminary data is consistent with a cremation deposit. During the planned micro-excavation to fully examine its contents, the CT images will be invaluable. Funds are now being raised to obtain CT scans of the other two pots as well as carry out specialist post-excavation analysis such as radio-carbon dating. Watch this blog for further reports!

Computed tomography scan image of the largest pot discovered during the 2019 excavation season.


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